It was the deadliest mass shooting to reach a jury trial in the US, and on a day that was already high in emotion, many families left the court in Florida on Thursday confused and in tears.
“We are just shocked by this result and it is so unjust,” Lynn Chen, a cousin of Parkland victim Peter Wang, said. “How can he live another day?”
The jury’s decision to recommend life in prison and not the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz – who shot dead 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 – sparked an emotional outcry from the victims’ relatives who had gathered in the court.
“This animal is still going to have life in prison without parole,” one mother, Linda Schulman, said. “I hope he has the fear in him every second of his life. Why do we have the death penalty at all?”
Parkland teacher Ivy Schamis, who testified at the trial how two pupils in her class died in the attack, told the BBC she was devastated.
“He [the gunman] will live his life,” she said. “He will probably get love letters.
“It means most of the parents will not outlive this shooter. I’ve lost all my faith in the justice system after this.”
Three of the 12 jurors voted to spare the gunman following the sentencing trial. Under Florida law, a unanimous decision is needed in order for someone to be put to death.
If a single juror disagrees, then the defendant is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This is what the 24-year-old Parkland gunman now faces.
Jury foreman Benjamin Thomas told CBS Miami that he did not vote for the life sentence and is “not happy with how [the sentencing] worked out”.
“It really came down to a specific juror who believed [the gunman] was mentally ill,” he said. “She didn’t believe that because he’s mentally ill he should get the death penalty.”
“There was one [juror] with a hard no – she couldn’t do it,” he said. “And there was another two that ended up voting the same way.”